Monthly Archives: June 2012

An Eclectic List

Here’s one more guest post, this time from my dear New York friend, Mary Norris. Mary is deputy-head of the copyediting department at the New Yorker, so you know you need to listen to what she has to say. You can find Mary blogging on some of my favorite subjects, including commas and pencils, at and at her highly original and hilarious blog on life in the city with a car,  

Here’s Mary:

I loved the Summer Reading Club at the library of my childhood. The goal was to read ten books, and there was some kind of a system for keeping track: gold stars or red dots or filled-in squares. I still think of summer as a season for reading—for pure entertainment instead of school—and because I now spend the summer at the beach and have a long commute to work, I am especially intent on having a good supply of books. Fortunately, where I work there is a book bench piled with reviewcopies for the taking. I can never resist anything about the sea. Or Greece. Or Italy.Or Catholics. Or Freud. Or celebrity-chef memoirs. Today I picked up a copy of “The
Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English.” If I had any sense, I would put it back.

Here is my list for the summer of 2012:

1. “Surviving the Shark: A Surfer’s Terrifying Tale of a Brutal Attack by a Great White,” by Jonathan Kathrein with Margaret Kathrein. The author was
sixteen when a shark sank its teeth into his leg while he was surfing off the
coast of Marin County, California. I have gotten as far as his decision, in the
hospital, to speak in defense of the shark.
2. “Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea,” by Linda Greenlaw.
I’m now halfway through this account of a fishing expedition on the Grand
Banks. I’m not that interested in fishing, but I love stuff about boats, and this
one is by a lady skipper, the captain of one of the boats that Sebastian Junger
wrote about in “The Perfect Storm.”
3. “How to Sharpen Pencils,” by David Rees. A hilarious, poignant, straight-faced manual for pencil enthusiasts. I hope to visit the Pencil-Sharpener Museum in Logan, Ohio, with the author.
4. “The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance,” by Henry Petroski.
I should have read this years ago, but have only recently embraced my penicilophilia.
5. “That Is All,” by John Hodgman. I met Hodgman, who appears occasionally on “The Daily Show,” while I was waiting for David Rees to sign my copyof “How to Sharpen Pencils” and felt obliged to buy his book, too. He is a young guy,with a fertile imagination, and he writes for other young guys with fertile imaginations. I think he was briefly a millionaire for some reason.
6. “Privacy,” by Garret Keizer. From a series called Big Ideas/small books, put out by Picador. Garret Keizer is a terrific writer who I happen to know from graduate school. He and his wife, Kathy, helped me plant my first vegetable garden. I know he will be good company on the A train.
7. “God’s Hotel,” by Victoria Sweet. I love medical literature, and this is about a very compassionate rehab facility in California, and promises to have lots of gory details and case histories.
8. “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot. This has been on my shelf for a while. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it, but have put off delving into it, even though it counts as medical literature.9. “The Prime Minister,” by Anthony Trollope. I have never read Trollope, who is a big favorite of some people I respect. Plus he was so prolific that he could fill my A train requirements for years to come. His is the only book on this list that I don’t have. Perhaps this calls for a trip to the library.10. To be determined, possibly during that trip to the library.

My Friend Susan

I’m (still) traveling–squee! 

But my good friend, the poet Susan Grimm, is here to share some thoughts and memories about  summer reading.  Susan is the author of two poetry collections, Almost Home and Lake Erie Blue, and editor of the collection Weathering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems.  Susan blogs at

Susan and her sister, fiction writer Mary Grimm, spent their summers writing stories and playing complicated, imaginary games–think the Brontes, minus the moors and the drunken brother. (By the way, Girl of the Limberlost is on my list to re-read, too). Susan writes:

When I was little (but not too little), I would read some books over and over. I read The Dandelion Cottage every summer and The Little White Horse even more frequently. I have a hazy idea of both stories, lo, these many years later, but isn’t that how memory always works—I remember one thing and you another. I remember that the four girls in Dandelion Cottage wallpapered some of the rooms of the deserted cottage. (This must have been a time when I still thought I would be domestically gifted.) And I remember the girl in The Little White Horse had a riding habit and a container of biscuits (English for cookies) at the side of her bed.
I was the sort of child who loved the summer reading club’s recognition of what I did all year long. Stars for the books I gobbled. Maybe those librarians were my first audience as I had to recap the story I read. One time, I was tested by a suspicious woman who didn’t believe I could read words like “sewing machine”!
Nowadays, I still like to make lists of what to read during the summer, although it’s not the adult equivalent of Swallows and Amazons (pemmican, “If not duffers . . .”) or The Valley of Adventure (the glittering eyes of the statues and how those Brits always call blankets “rugs”). Usually, I’m looking for something that might be considered heavy reading by some. A book that I’ve somehow neglected or a book that might give me ideas about my own work. One summer involved Moby Dick, another Middlemarch. Recently, I made my way through American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry.
I haven’t made my list for this year although I guess I could start it with the book of poems by Rae Armantrout that I’m reading now.
But maybe I should revisit the things I read in those early years. Just recently, in an extremely oppositional venue (the office where I work), I read The Five Children and It through Daily Lit. (This was a much better choice than Walt Whitman—who I like—but not in this form of delivery.) Every day I would get a little slice of the five children’s adventures, the Psammead’s perverse wish-granting mischief, and the wry, knowing narrator’s voice, sometimes addressing the reader directly. It was still great!
What else could I revisit? The Little Lame Prince, Hetty: Her First Hundred Years, Anne of Green Gables, Caddie Woodlawn, Girl of the Limberlost, A Wrinkle in Time, The Diamond in the Window, A Treasury of Golden Memories, Return to Gone-Away.

Where you should be on June 16

I’m writing this before I leave on my Japan trip.  As you read, I may be eating sushi (not) or taking the Philospher’s Walk in the mountains outside Kyoto.  “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

I’m looking forward to seeing what book stores are like there.  Before I leave here, I’ll be stopping into Mac’s Backs, one of the three superb indie bookstores my community is lucky enough to have.  Mac’s sells new and used books, and I’ll be stocking up on paperbacks I can shed as I finish them. I’ll have a chat with owner Suzanne, probably the most modest hero I know.  Suzanne has been in business for decades, through thick and very thin, and she offers in spades everything you think of when you think bookstore: what you’re looking for, the unexpected find, thoughtful tips, the chance to bump into a neighbor.  She hosts book clubs for all ages, as well as readings by nationally known and local writers.   Susan hosted the book launch for What Happened on Fox Street, and in September, she’s sponsoring a reading by my writing group (which please come to).  All stuff that needs an actual, real live place to occur.  

All of which is to say, she and her store are irreplaceable.  I’m pleased to note that, midst the endless bad news about book store closings, she and her two local comrades tell me their sales have gone up since the local Borders closed.  Not only that, the American Booksellers Association reports that the number of indie book stores rose last year, the third straight year of increase.  The Dance of Joy, please!

And yet…these stores need us.  Need us bad.  They haven’t survived out of luck, but due to their owners’ passion and persistence. Hard as it is to resist the instant gratification lure of Amazon, I do, again and again.  Thrilled as I am that my books are available in every format including e-book, I worry a lot about what that means for the brick and mortar places I love. 

June 16 is this year’s designated Save The Bookstores Day. Just as every month should be Poetry Month and every day is Children’s Day, we shouldn’t need an official day for shopping our indies, but we do.  (It’s also the day before Father’s Day.)  Treat yourself to a new or used book–you and your bookstore owner deserve it.


In less than a week, I will be on a plane to Japan.  (If you have a big brass gong near at hand, please strike it now!)  Busy as things have been around here, and given my compulsive tendency to compartmentalize my life, typing those words “plane to Japan” gives me a shock.  

Reasons to be anxious:

**Have never been

**Endless plane ride

**Sushi (do not eat)

**Language (do not speak)

**Knees (do not bend as well as they used to–and I will be spending a lot of time on the floor)

Reasons to be excited:

**Have never been




**Husband who was there two years ago and has barely stopped talking about it since

Over the two weeks, we’ll be on our own part of the time, in Kyoto, and the rest of the time with his high school students, at Hiroshima and in Tokyo.  For several days we’ll be staying with a family who make their living brewing soy sauce!  I have a new journal at the ready. 


More nice news: On my desk, to finish up before I leave, is the copy-edited manuscript of my chapter book Cody, which Candlewick will publish in 2014.  I wish I could reveal the name 0f the wonderful, witty illustrator they’ve engaged, but I’m still sworn to secrecy.

My lovely, lovely editor there, Liz Bicknell, has also sent me art from my picture book Phoebe and Digger, illustrated by the genius Jeff Newman, due out in spring 2013.  I’ll be sharing that here before too long.  

 And last but not least,  this week’s writing quote, inspiring if also a bit intimidating, since I never know how much I know: “ If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.    Good old Papa Hemingway

The WWW and me

Winsome Word Women, that is.

I’ve mentioned them here before, my wonderful women writer friends.  I’m just back from a week-long informal writing retreat with them in a family house on the very shore of Lake Tahoe.  For someone who grew up in the east, and has spent more than half her life in Ohio, the west coast has a wide-open feel, meaning when I’m there I can’t stop flinging wide my arms, and tilting my head to see the tops of the trees, and breathing in great lungfuls (lungsful?) of bright, piney air. One day my friends Kris, Mary Jane and I climbed to Eagle Rock, where it’s  easy to feel, literally, on top of the world. 

Every morning we wrote (and all of one afternoon, too, since it was freaking SNOWING) and then we goofed around. One advantage of being with word women is that you are never being “lazy”; rather, you’re being “playful”.  We talked about our work, of course, but also about pencils, figs and fig trees (but not fig leaves), nuns, Antonio Banderas, commas, Georgette Heyer (thumbs up or down), bears (ditto), our feet, urban fantasy, Emily Dickinson and sandhill cranes (which we were lucky enough to see–great, gangly yet dignified, prehistoric-looking creatures).  Nerds that we are, we spent most of one car ride making a list of words that end in “ery” (due to shameless cheating, a few “iary” words  made it on, as well).   

Lake Tahoe has pine trees with bark that smells sugary as a bag full of Halloween candy.  Also, lots of wild sage, and if you put bits of both in your jean pocket, you become a walking aroma-therapy center.  Every tiny store has a good selection of wine, and someone to tell you which is his favorite.   

We lost a day getting there. I’ll spare the details, but suffice it to say: do not utter the words United Airlines to me unless you’re prepared for a furious rant. In the end, that only made our time  more precious. I love solitude–I couldn’t be  a writer if I didn’t. Yet during that week I worked harder than usual, buoyed and inspired by my friends’ purpose. 

In the weeks ahead, when I’ll be doing some more traveling, two of those friends may guest-post here. I can’t wait for you to meet them.